Death, taxes and…weeding

They say two things are certain in life: death and taxes. I would add a third: weeding. In organic farming, there is no escaping it. The formula is almost mathematical: rain plus warm weather, made worse by the technical unfeasibility of wheeling mechanical (i.e. tractor-pulled) weeding equipment into a soggy field – and there you have it: weeds here, there and everywhere. The situation worsens with every passing day, bringing the anxiety level of the ‘master weeder’ (yours truly) to a fever pitch. Finally, enough is enough, and an entire field team has no choice but to get down on all fours and wrestle with the hairy galinsoga, shepherd’s purse, crabgrass and false chamomile. Heavily armed, on padded knees, the team of five moves forward: two in front, three bringing up the rear, earth warriors all, their progress slow but unrelenting as they show the weeds no mercy. We were at it all weekend, amidst scattered showers and a thunderstorm, with bright sunny breaks punctuating the battle. Early summer weeding usually begins in the carrot patch (the most tedious weeding ever), followed by row upon row of celery root, beans, fennel and lettuce. While the job is far from finished, at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Fortunately, the sunny breaks were just enough for the broccoli florets to form and for the fennel to swell. We’ll also be harvesting our first beets of the season, delicate and delectable, from leaf to root. The balance of your basket contents will be not unlike those of last week: lettuce and other leafy greens, strawberries, garlic scapes and kohlrabi (the latter, despite having been sown in finite quantities, seemingly multiplying asymptotically towards infinity in the field). That said, we look forward to seeing you all again…

Ode to Lettuce

Will you allow me to wax lyrical on lettuce? Lettuce so rarely merits more than a passing thought, but this week’s selection makes it worthwhile to pause and consider it. In truth, it’s pretty easy to overlook lettuce. Farming-wise, I mean, if not otherwise. Forget it in a corner of the field, fail to water it in time or enough, and it will quickly bolt and turn bitter. Fortunately though, the season has been anything but dry so far. We’ve had abundant rain, with just enough sunny days to give delicate lettuce leaves more rather than less substance. The long and short of it is that our early lettuces are flourishing, and the two varieties in your basket this week (‘Red Oak Leaf’ and ‘Emerald Oak’) will prove my point. While we’re at it, a few words on the proper storage of lettuce (and other leafy greens – spinach, Swiss chard, etc.) are in order: the less water on the leaves, the better, as the longer they may be stored in your refrigerator. So for this week’s lettuce: as soon as you can, cut the leaves at their base, give them a nice cold water bath, spin them and store them in an airtight container. They should keep for at least a week.

That said, this second week of the season is also scape, strawberry and Swiss chard week. Our just harvested scapes are at their freshest now. Eaten raw or cooked, garlic scapes are a delicate teaser, hinting at the full-grown garlic that will follow in late July. With a couple of days to go before deliveries, the jury is still out on the readiness of our snap peas and broccoli. We’ll let Mother Nature make the call.

Week One

The heatspell of the past two day has, as if by magic, erased all memories of the ridiculous weather we had been having up to now. We’ve turned the corner into full-on summer, and there will likely be no looking back until October, when we will have had our fill of languid summer temperatures. Meanwhile, in just two days, we have been consumed by waterworks: drip tubing to unwind, hoses to be laid, seedlings to rescue and greenhouse waterings twice daily versus the usual one. It is on a dry note, therefore, that we announce the true start of CSA basket deliveries for the 2017 season – a season that has kept us on our toes so far and that seems intent on testing our farming mettle. We’ll keep you posted on Mother Nature’s antics as the season progresses.

In this week’s basket, a battle between leafy and all other greens, the leafy ones clearly have the upper hand (see list). It’s always the case in early June, a situation made even more apparent by the absence of strawberries: the cool weather of the past few weeks having slowed their ripening so much that it will likely be another couple of weeks before they enter the fray. That said, the brassicas have enjoyed the cooler weather – and will be making a strong showing at your delivery locations. Pay particular attention to the bok choy and tatsoi – by mid-week we’ll have posted new recipes on the site – and don’t overlook the spinach, basil and kohlrabi. We’ll also be serving up new potatoes from organic potato farmers Samson & Fils, for a little extra oomph.

Hard at Work

We’ve had no choice but to weather the weather, so to speak – and to compensate for its vagaries, unpredictability and liquid excesses by throwing this year’s crop rotation out the window…Or so it seems, given the past few weeks at Arlington Gardens. We  know a wet field when we see one, and a dry one, too. And it’s in the drier parts that we planted our earliest seedlings, whose root systems were too confined to wait in their trays any longer, particularly all those brassicas. Other seedlings quickly followed suit, as we dodged rainfalls and monitored soggy fields : first onions, then leeks, followed by leafy greens, several root vegetables and our favourite nightshades (solanaceas). The worst is now over, and although not everything is according to plan, we’ve arrived at a workable alternate configuration.

Only three weeks to go before deliveries begin and we’re eager to  see you all again. Our new hens have started laying and we’re hoping for a nice strawberry harvest for our first baskets. Already it’s looking like our garlic crop is going to be a bumper one this year. Every year is different, garlic-wise. This year’s batch is the result of a hands-off approach, or PITFAI (plant-it-then-forget-about-it) – as we planted thousands of cloves in a garlic patch last fall then did absolutely nothing until weeding  it this weekend. Interestingly, the plants seem to have responded particularly well to relative neglect, which gives us something to think about for next year’s crop.

We have room for a few more basket sign-ups at all our drop-off locations, so we invite you to register before deliveries begin if you’ve been putting it off.

April Showers, May Flowers

This month of April will clearly have been the wettest one in a very long while. The water levels in our irrigation pond are the highest we’ve ever seen,  and our fields are sodden. Fortunately, we will be starting our earliest field plantings under the cover of our big greenhouse. I should no better than to complain – summer will undoutedly dry things up and out, building up reserves is necessary at this juncture.

Meanwhile, things are hopping in our seedling green house, as April is a month of seasonal metamorphosis. It’s where you’ll find me, sowing an nth batch of lettuce or some celery.  I am already transplanting, multiplying seed trays like a certain prophet once multiplied bread. The first transplants were the peppers, followed by parsley, then celeriac. In a week, I’ll be transplanting early tomatoes, then eggplants. What may seem boring and repetitive to some, is anything but : the act of transplanting – removing a single plant from an intertwined matrix to isolate it in its very own container – is very nearly paschal, as the plants recover from the root shock that very nearly kills them – saved by the gentle speed with which they are handled and a refreshing shower of water. Time and a bit more water ensure their recovery is complete.

To all of you who have not yet registered : why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? Sign-ups are in full swing – reserve your basket before it is too late. The seasonal them will be variety, as we strive to introduce more choices into our weekly baskets. We are also pleased to offer an extended basket option for those wishing to receive veggies through November.

The sourdough breads of Capitaine Levain are back for a second year in a row (see their panier surprise and panier au choix, available at most of our drop-off locations) and remember that you will also find us at Atwater Market, Thursdays through Sundays, from mid-July to the end of October. Our farmstand will serve as a new drop-off location for those of you wishing to pick up your basket at the market. We have also opened a new drop-off location in Griffintown, at Le Kitchen – a great source of organic, vegan and other healthy food options, on William Street. Please let family and friends in Griffintown know. Last, but not least, for the social-media-savvy amongst you, please note that you can now follow us on instagram and facebook…In closing, we’re looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

Rite of Spring

Spring is finally in the air, complete with rising temperatures and thawing soil. The fields are waterlogged and we’ve begun to spot the occasional intrepid cyclist, all telltale signs of the impending change of season. But none of that really matters, as we focus our undivided attention on the season’s prep: the greenhouse has been going full tilt since the third week of March, our alliums (leeks and onions) are sprouting, as are our first kales and chards. New seedlings are being sown daily, and the list lengthens : peppers, basil, spinach, celeriac. With tomatoes and eggplants just around the corner, we’ll soon be able to claim that the 2017 season has firmly taken root.

Sign-ups for the season are in full swing – we encourage you to register for the season asap, if you haven’t done so already. We’re looking forward to another season!

In like a lion…

Confounding March…The last days’ rainfall has erased all traces of snow remaining in the fields. Everything is laid bare, exposed to nature’s vagaries and the bitter cold which continues, despite a fast-approaching spring (on our calendar page, if nowhere else). Temperatures dropped below -20⁰C last weekend and the forecast is for more of the same in coming days. Yours truly, i.e. your vegetable farmer, hates these yo-yo weather fluctuations, and wonders how his garlic will fare, so abruptly deprived of its protective snow cover…There is nothing to be done, save hoping that the meteorologists are mistaken in their predictions.

That said, bare fields are an open invitation – and so it is that yesterday I walked them, checking on our perennial plantings and taking a stroll through our small orchard. Fortunately, everything plant-like remains stubbornly dormant, biding its time and unimpressed by the fleeting warm spells. We will soon begin spring cleaning and pruning, remedying the winter’s wind damage and removing bothersome suckers. Then we’ll take our shears to the blueberry patch and our black currant bed. Two weeks of busy-ness before the season’s work begins in earnest and we open the greenhouse…

Season Launch

It’s official: the 2017 season at Arlington Gardens is under way.
Visit our sign-up page to register for your 2017 CSA basket.

We’ve been working on the new season for several weeks, now.
For starters, we will be offering a regular season of 20 baskets and an extended season of 23 baskets. For those of you who choose 20 baskets, the season will start June 14 and end October 26. Those of you opting for 23 baskets will also see the season start June 14, but it will run through November 30. The three November baskets will be delivered every two weeks from November 1st. With the construction of a large unheated greenhouse last year, we will be able to offer a nice variety of leaf vegetables to complement the usual late season root vegetable fare.
We have also heeded requests for more seasonal fruit in your baskets. We aim to do our best to offer more this season. 2017 will be a transitional year for us, as we begin to increase acreage for strawberries and grapes and to increase our blueberry yields. Provided you are patient, you should see these changes gradually bear…fruit.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention the return of the sourdough breads and other organic grain-based treats of Capitaine Levain. We will also be at Atwater Market again from early July to the end of October. Our market stand there will also serve as a new basket drop-off location this year. We look forward to seeing all of you again, to start a new season and to get back into the swing of vegetable deliveries soon! See you soon.